Lentis/Dance Dance Revolution
This chapter explores the rise, prominence and decline of Dance Dance Revolution (also known as DDR). We examine the differences between Japanese and American cultures and its impact on social gaming. Participants include Japanese gamers, American gamers, arcade owners, and video game makers.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 History
- 3 Popularity of Dance Dance Revolution
- 4 Evolving Gaming Market
- 5 Conclusion
- 6 References
Arcade Culture and Predecessors
Arcade games were first created in the 1970s, with Japan and the US playing, trading, and sometimes copying games such as Pong (1972) and Speed Race (1974). The industry took off in Japan with Space Invaders (1978); concurrently, the home console market was burgeoning, with releases such as the Nintendo Famicom (NES) and Sega Genesis penetrating the West.  Arcades became a Japanese fixture and featured not only video games but also prize games, medal games, simulator games, and photobooths (purikura). They were both social gathering places as well as spaces to be alone, and some were located near train stations to optimize foot traffic.
It was into this scene that action rhythm video games were born. Sony's PaRappa the Rapper (1996), for the PlayStation, tasked players with repeating button patterns they saw on screen. Konami followed up with the arcade game Beatmania (1998), where the player followed scrolling onscreen cues to touch buttons and a turntable that emulated a DJ's setup. Beatmania was the first of several games by Bemani (the music division of Konami) with the same concept. They released Guitar Freaks, Drum Mania, and Dance Dance Revolution within the next several years; the latter was their most successful offering.
Release and Reception
DDR was a hit before it officially released. Arcade machines began distribution in September of 1998, and by DDR's release on November 21, 1998, it had already become wildly popular. The machines were in most arcades and even in a number of unexpected locations such as laundromats. DDR quickly became a franchise with sequels, remixes, and clones such as Pump it Up. In 2003, the franchise's sales tallied 6.5 million units worldwide, with Japan accounting for 61.5% of them. Different DDR scenes emerged across countries, and fansites like DDR Freak allowed players to share both game-related and off-topic conversations online.
Popularity of Dance Dance Revolution
Despite DDR's immediate popularity, it wasn't until 1999 that DDR groups began to form. Prior to these "teams," the only social events revolving around DDR were the occasional tournament. DDR teams appeared all over Japan; they consisted of anywhere from five to fifteen or more players. These teams met on a semi-regular basis to play and socialize, often moving from the arcade for a dinner outing or drinking. Rarely competitive initially, these teams were closer to clubs; many teams centered around interests outside of DDR. An example comes from one of the earliest teams, Team Club Pink Cocktail. They required members to be fans of a cocktail fan magazine called Fantasy Cocktail.
Rise of the Scorer
These teams did not last long. By mid-2000, Konami ceased holding tournaments that combined player skill with performance art. Both their tournaments and their online rankings only used the score from this point onward. Casual players felt they were no longer welcomed in the scene, and the causal teams either broke up or stopped including DDR in their social events. This shift to score-oriented play brought the "scorer" playstyle to the forefront of the subculture. These players worked to "Full Marvelous Combo" a song, which meant hitting every single note in the song in the "marvelous" window - a window that is a fraction of a second long. Less casual teams started playing in this score attack style and in the same year began holding inter-teams tournaments, further alienating casual teams.
Around this time DDR scoring sites began to appear. Fan sites had existed before, but few ranking websites had been created. The change in gameplay goals made these websites incredibly popular and they have helped sustain the DDR community since then, allowing players to vie for best in their town, prefecture, or even the country.
Through the Years
After the shift to score attack, the scene remained relatively the same. The community, though, did acquire norms specific to its subculture: skepticism of a newcomer's posted scores (typically prestigious ones), shunning of those resistant to using the game's speed modifier or the bar behind the machine, and rejection of those who "shadowed" a player's movements in-game, to name a few. As long as newcomers conformed to these norms and were not intimidated by the intensity of the regulars, the community welcomed them with open arms. With each release, new players have joined the scene. Veteran players offered tips and taught the new players. This unusually friendly community has kept the community's size consistent through the years.
A short note on the american scene, for the purposes of comparison. While the American scene began similarly to the Japanese one, American arcades are not nearly as prolific as their counterparts. This meant that the way most Americans experienced DDR was through the series of console games. This kept the American community from ever growing to the same size of the Japanese. Konami's support for the arcade games eventually wavered in the west, with localization issues resulting in a drop in quality of the arcade series. With the primary audience being casual, at-home players, the American DDR scene has shrunk to a handful of hardcore players.
Konami began a new initiative to internationalize DDR in 2016, with Dance Dance Revolution A coming to the US in Summer 2016.
Evolving Gaming Market
Decline in Arcades Outside Japan
In North America, gamers are now generally more divided into two distinct generations: those who grew up in the midst of the vibrant video arcade culture of the 70s and the 80s; and those born since  A. The latter group's experience with arcades is primarily through redemption-machine-filled restaurants like Dave & Busters and a few neglected cabinets at their local movie theater. But in Japan, the divide does not exist. Arcades there have continued to evolve since their introduction. The very different fates that have befallen North American and Japanese arcades is due to with demographics and urban planning as much as the different tastes in games. As the American arcade market continued to decline, it was tougher for DDR to innovate itself out of its image as a quirky gaming fad. Arcade owners became increasingly reluctant to invest in new machines due to their exorbitant costs. Trust in new products and new companies is tremendously low in the arcade industry.
Insularism in Japanese Gaming
In recent years, Japanese companies have been criticized over long development times and slow release dates, lack of third-party gaming companies, and for being too insular to appeal to the changing taste of the global market. Yoichi Wada stated in the Financial Times on April 27, 2009 the Japanese gaming industry of having become a "closed environment." . The United States gaming industry previously struggled against Japan, but it has now attracted people from the computer industry and Hollywood, which has lead to strong growth.
Shift in Social Gaming
Like karaoke games and instrument based games, DDR lived its time and has severely decreased in popularity. Over the years, the franchise has dwindled in relevance, gamers simply grew fatigued of stomping their feet to moving arrows. Konami struggled with advertising each new release as its own entity. Each release of the series brought new songs, but the gameplay itself turned stale, and eventually gamers packed up the plastic mats into the closet . Particularly in the United States, there was a shifting attitude for home console gaming. Military-style games, such as Call of Duty , grew in popularity during the mid 2000s.
DDR's home console series popularity severely declined after the release of motion sensor gaming systems. This has left players tracking down arcade cabinets for newer versions and songs. Since then, games like DDR have led into newer titles such as Just Dance and Dance Central , allowing players to move their bodies in front of a sensor. Guitar Hero and Rockband have faced similar declines in popularity with the changing landscape of gaming.
The arcade is a unique experience, where people compete with strangers, win prizes, and play games beyond what you can experience or afford at home. Consoles and the rise of the Internet are some reasons for the decline in the American arcade market, but the main reasons have more to do with a business model that makes video arcades unattractive for both manufacturers (arcade game developers) and operators (arcade owners). Customer demand decreased, operators became more risk-averse, and more risk was passed on to the manufacturer. For Japan, the arcade gaming market has held because their target demographic for an arcade encompasses the entire age range, as opposed to the United States (ages 9-15). The Japanese youth can immerse themselves in Street Fighter II while the elderly and middle aged can enjoy the gambling simulators. The operators actively fought against the arcades' negative image.
DDR's success in particular is due to the new interests and demographics the game catered to. For one, it drew in music connoisseurs who appreciated the range of artists enlisted by Konami, including some unknown ones. It also appealed to all genders, where the majority of other arcade games were male-centric. The pattern of new technology enabling more inclusive forms of entertainment can also be observed in Nintendo's Wii home console, which featured innovative motion sensor controls and a packaged Wii Sports game that was marketed to families rather than just adolescents.
DDR represented a viable mesh point between two otherwise disparate fields: dance and video games. As the latter field has evolved to convey new and varying aesthetics--narrative, challenge, discovery--it will be interesting to see how other age-old activities and institutions can be reinterpreted through the science and art form that is video gaming.
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